Memory is a psychological concept that we usually think of as if it were just one thing: the act of remembering what we had for dinner yesterday seems to have the same nature as remembering what the capital of Egypt is like or what the steps of a choreography look like. , from the point of view of psychology, this is not so, since there are different types of memory. In this article we will let you know about the Semantic memory.
For example, part of memory is not made up of concepts, but of emotions, patterns and movements. However, within the type of memory made up of verbalizable aspects of knowledge, called declarative memory, there is also a subdivision. On the one hand, there is episodic memory, which contains memories about narrative information from our past experiences (like what happened to us yesterday when we went to buy bread) and , on the other hand, we find semantic memory , which we will focus on in this article.
What is semantic memory?
In short, the semantic memory is the one that contains all the information related to the concepts through which we understand the world and ourselves. That is, it is something like the deposit of concepts about everything we know: the names of countries, the characteristics of mammals, the history of the region in which we live, etc.
That is, this semantic memory allows us to understand the environment in which we find ourselves, and also ourselves, as it allows us to reflect on our personal characteristics.
Although being a type of declarative memory is composed of concepts , unlike episodic memory, it does not follow a narrative progression. The fact that Africa is a continent has nothing to do with an experience with a beginning, development and result, it is enough to know the term “Africa” and link it to a territory that we saw on a map and that exists beyond that map , not just as part of a story of our private life.
The information contained in semantic memory can be understood as a pyramid of concepts; Some of them are very general and are composed of other concepts, which in turn are formed by others, until they reach very basic and insignificant information units, because they are very specific.
Therefore, it is a mental capacity that is consciously and often voluntarily expressed , for example when we need to access relevant information to correctly answer an exam question (something that does not happen with emotional memory, or not to the same extent).
Semantic memory functions
All types of memory are of crucial importance and complement each other, but the case of semantic memory is special because, thanks to it, we are able to create the concepts necessary to develop language and to be able to think in an abstract way.
If non-declarative memory is useful when it comes to directing our behavior based on our learning and the episodic, it allows us to understand the specific context in which we live and the specific situations we go through, semantics is what generates all these ideas of that we need to build beliefs, expectations, goals , etc.
Thus, this type of memory is closely linked to the ability to use language, which is nothing more than a system of symbols with an abstract meaning not linked to a particular place and time.
Parts of the brain involved
The differentiation between semantic memory and other types of memory is not simply theoretical: it is materialized in the brain.
For example, emotional memory is closely related to activity performed by a part of the brain called the amygdala, while episodic memory is related to another structure called the hippocampus and cerebral cortex.
As for semantic memory, it also depends in part on the hippocampus, but to a lesser extent than episodic memory. It is believed that, compared to the episodic, the importance of the general activity of the cerebral cortex is greater .
As each type of memory has several brain structures more oriented than the others, this causes certain neurological pathologies to also affect a little more than the rest.
In the case of semantic memory, it seems to be especially vulnerable to lesions in the prefrontal cortex , although alterations in the hippocampus also affect it a lot, as is the case with episodic memory.
However, in practice, many pathologies that erode our ability to remember concepts damage several areas of the brain at the same time. This is what happens, for example, with dementia; virtually all of them play against this type of mental capacity, as they kill many neurons distributed throughout most of the brain (though more in some areas than others).